Nikita Lalwani’s latest novel You People poses the tantalising question: in a world where the law is against you, how far would you be willing to lie for a chance to live? Set in London pizzeria where half the kitchen staff are undocumented immigrants, it is a witty and humane snapshot of undervalued lives and strained compassion in contemporary Britain.

Where are you now?

In bed listening to ‘Hit or Miss’ by Odetta.

Where and when do you do most of your writing?

From mid-morning to mid-afternoon in a room of one’s own in Bloomsbury. Well it actually belongs to the university where I teach a couple of days a week, but it is nice and small so there is only space for me/my books in there. I write there most weekdays. Hang on, for a minute there, I was in complete denial of the fact that I’m in self-isolation. So actually now it would be at my writing bureau in a room at the back of the house, with a view of greenery. I do some tree-gazing in the morning as I get myself into gear.

If you have one, what is your pre-writing ritual?

It happens about half the time that I manage to get a good ritual on: I like to walk for about an hour and listen to a short story before coffee, porridge and writing. 

Full-time or part-time?

I write three days a week during teaching weeks, five days a week otherwise.

Pen or keyboard?

Keyboard pretty much always. Email to self is the new notebook when ideas come in transit.

How do you relax when you’re writing?

I try to read the whole internet and kid myself that I am relaxing, as a lead up to (or break during) writing. When the book is going well, and I am in flow then I don’t attempt this form of relaxation.

How would you pitch your latest book in up to 25 words?

Tuli, the enigmatic ‘Robin Hood’ proprietor of a London pizzeria, is known for helping those in need of money or legal aid. But playing God has dangerous consequences.

Who do you write for?

An imaginary, respected, difficult to impress reader with a low tolerance for vagueness.

Who do you share your work in progress with?

My husband Vik Sharma. He’s a brilliant reader – honest, perceptive and ingenious

Which literary character do you wish you created?

Maybe Jenny Fields in The World According to Garp.

Share with us your favourite line/s of dialogue, poetry or prose.

Hard to boil it down so just picking one of many here:
“Ah, but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.”
Bob Dylan, ‘My Back Pages’.

Which book do you wish you’d written?

Maybe Women as Lovers by Elfriede Jelinek.

Which book/s have you most recently read and enjoyed?

Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli.

What’s on your bedside table or e-reader?

A lot of really good second novels (I’m judging the RSL Encore prize for best British second novels).

Which books do you feel you ought to have read but haven’t yet?

Life and Fate by Vassily Grossman. Dead Souls by Gogol.

Which book/s do you treasure the most?

Different books bring you different gems so it is hard to boil it down to one. But in terms of formative experience, I read Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie when I was fourteen and it is emblazoned on my memory.

What is the last work you read in translation?

Other Lives But Mine by Emmanuel Carrere, translated by Linda Coverdale.

Which story collections would you particularly recommend?

In Other Rooms, Other Wonders by Daniyal Mueenuddin; The Collected Stories by Mavis Gallant.

What will you read next?

We Are Made Of Diamond Stuff by Isabel Waidner.

What are you working on next?

A novel set in a village in Berkshire. The attempted murder of a GP and his wife is such a cruel shock that the couple turns against everyone in the village.

Imagine you’re the host of a literary supper, who would your dinner guests be (living or dead, real or fictional)?

James Baldwin would be good value. And Maeve Brennan. Amazing to imagine them at the same table.

If you weren’t writing you’d be…?

Probably doing something in the world of documentary film and factual TV as was my life before the first book. I still use the same skills (intrusive voyeurism) when researching and writing fiction.


Nikita Lalwani was born in Rajasthan, raised in Cardiff and lives in London. Her first novel Gifted was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize, shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award and won the Desmond Elliott Prize for Fiction. She was also nominated for the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award. Her second novel The Village won a Jerwood Fiction Uncovered award. You People is published in hardback, eBook and audio download by Viking and Penguin Digital.
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Author portrait © Vik Sharma